ALS therapy development has been hindered by the lack of rodent animal models. The discovery of TDP-43, a transcription factor that accumulates in the cytoplasm of motor neurons (MNs) in most cases of ALS, prompted attempts to develop TDP-43-based models of the disease. The current study sought to examine, in extensive detail, the emerging disease phenotype of a transgenic mouse model that overexpresses a mutant human TDP-43 (hTDP-43) gene under mouse prion promoter control. Careful attention was given to ALS-like characteristics to determine the appropriateness of this model for testing therapies for ALS. In light of previous reports that gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction is responsible for early death in these mice, gut immunohistochemistry (IHC) and longitudinal gut motility assays were used to identify the onset and the progression of these defects. IHC studies revealed that site-specific overexpression of the hTDP-43 transgene in colonic myenteric plexes resulted in progressive neurodegeneration in this region. This change was associated with progressively reduced GI motility, culminating in frank stasis that was primarily responsible for decreasing longevity in these mice. The disease phenotype was gender- and genetic background-dependent, with congenic C57BL/6J male mice exhibiting the most aggressive form of the disease. Spinal cord IHC revealed ubiquitin-positive inclusions, but not TDP-43 aggregates, in the cytoplasm of MNs. Neither gender exhibited compelling ALS-like neuromuscular deficits, irrespective of age. While this model may be useful for studying GI tract neurodegeneration, in its present state it does not display a phenotype suitable for testing ALS therapeutics.
Keywords: ALS; Myenteric plexus; Neurodegeneration; Prion; Proteinopathy; RNA binding; TDP-43; Transgenic animal models.
© 2013 Published by Elsevier B.V.